by Isabel Hughes | November 21, 2018 4:32 pm
On November 15, 2018, posters created by Riverside Brookfield High School’s Repertory Dance Ensemble (RDE) advertising their upcoming performance were taken down at the administration’s request just two days after they were originally posted. The morning of November 20, students gathered at a public forum with Assistant Principal for Student Affairs, Dave Mannon, and Assistant Principal for Curriculum & Instruction, Kylie Lindquist, in order to discuss the events surrounding the poster.
The posters were approved by Mannon’s assistant, Colette Buscemi, with Mannon’s signature stamp. RBHS has a specific process of deciding which posters are appropriate to hang around the school and the RDE posters were not directly approved by Mannon himself. Concerns regarding a student’s pose on a poster warranted it being taken down. The poster in question featured a dancer standing with her leg held parallel to her body.
“The approval process comes to our office. Ms. Buscemi has my stamp but never completed the process — she didn’t give me the poster to look at or review. She put my stamp on it and away those went,” said Mannon at the November 20 meeting.
Lindquist and Mannon both received multiple complaints from staff and administrators regarding the posters.
“If one staff member deems [a posting] offensive, we need to take a look at it,” said Mannon.
One of the administration’s duties is to make sure that all of the students’ learning environments are free of distractions and that certain things do not disrupt the school’s procedures and operations.
At the meeting, Mannon cited school code and noted that while everyone has first amendment rights, they are slightly limited at school.
“Anything that disrupts or substantially interferes with the school’s process or operations, the school has the right to take down whatever that may be, whether that’s a poster, or a shirt somebody’s wearing, or anything else. If it’s going to disrupt or potentially disrupt the operations and what we do here, we have a right to act,” said Mannon.
The biggest concern administration had about the posters was the possibility of them being defaced. Lindquist also stressed that the clothing being worn by the dancer in the photo was not the issue.
“It’s not necessarily that we’re talking about the clothes being worn… We’re talking about a pose that, when frozen in time on a poster, has the potential of being sexualised by someone that sees it out of context,” said Lindquist.
Emily Bittorf, a junior, is the dancer on the poster that was taken down. She and the other dancers are upset that their intentions to promote their showcase were misinterpreted.
“I was really sad when I heard that they were being taken down. I was so excited to finally be on a poster. It wasn’t intended for them to be perceived as sexual. I find it really sad that this is what we’ve come to when it comes to appreciating the arts. I hoped that people would be more understanding,” said Bittorf.
Some RDE members felt uncomfortable with the way they think some people might have perceived their poster. One senior RDE member, Kayla Bocanegra, spoke with us before the meeting.
“It personally makes me feel uncomfortable knowing that a ton of the administration thought that it was inappropriate, and it just makes me uncomfortable walking around knowing that I could be dancing in a show and people could see me in that way,” said Bocanegra.
This sentiment was also brought up at the meeting. However, Lindquist disagrees with the way students are seeing things. When asked during the meeting if teachers were seeing the poster in a sexual way, she was adamant that they were not.
“I was saying that ‘inappropriate’ means it [the pose] could be sexualised. That’s very different than someone looking at something and saying, ‘I personally think that is sexual’. I think that’s a dangerous thing to say,” said Lindquist.
The RDE dancers argue that the pose shown on the poster is obviously one that is related to dance and the purpose of the poster is very clear because of the information about their showcase that was also written on it.
“It just showed Emily doing a leg hold, which is a really cool move. It shows a dancer’s flexibility… We just wanted to show off what we can do,” said Bocanegra.
However, while the dancers and other people who attended the meeting know that the pose is a technical dance move, that might not be the case for the hundreds of other students at RBHS.
“We have to think about 1,600 kids. 1,600 students who we have to consider how might they react if they see whatever it is that we’re talking about. What might their perception be?” said Lindquist.
The administration is reviewing their protocol for putting up posters in the school’s halls. While the dancers were still upset about their poster being taken down, Lindquist and Mannon stated during the meeting that their response to the situation was a matter of being proactive rather than reactive.
“You understand that it’s dance. You in this room understand that it’s dance. But you have no frame of reference for what goes on with the entire student body. That’s our job. You shouldn’t have to think about that. We have to think about how 1,600 students, at varying levels of maturity, are going to react to things,” said Lindquist.
While RDE would ideally like to spread awareness about dance and technical, nonsexual dance poses, it is not possible to do so immediately which is why administration made the choice that they did.
“We can’t pull the entire building and the entire staff into the auditorium and give them a lesson on dance. We can’t do that. Can we open the conversation and can we start talking about things and make some people aware? We have already done so with some of the staff that have followed up with us since the poster has been taken down,” said Lindquist. “But as a school building can we stop everything we’re doing and educate everybody about a single dance pose? No, we can’t do that.”
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